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Best Practices for Working with Non-Technical Project Sponsors

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Practices for Student Learning Engagement

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Paper Authors


John Paul Farris Grand Valley State University

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John Farris joined the faculty at Grand Valley State University after a successful tenure as the chief product designer for a medical device manufacturer. His other significant industrial experience includes designing engine components for Caterpillar Inc. and consulting on the design of stationary fuel cell power generation units. His current research interests are design methods and medical technology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and his Bachelors and masters degrees from Lehigh University.

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Wendy S. Reffeor Grand Valley State University

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Wendy Reffeor is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing at Grand Valley State University. She earned her Bachelors from GMI Engineering & Management Institute, Masters from Purdue University and Doctorate from Michigan State University. Her industrial experience includes designing quality systems for Allison Engine Company in Indianapolis. Since joining GVSU, she has focused on introducing design and build projects in traditionally analytical courses in the Engineering Mechanics sequence.

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Lisa Karen Kenyon Grand Valley State University

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Dr. Kenyon is a pediatric physical therapist and Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Spurred on by the growth of project-based learning, experiential learning and service learning, many engineering programs now have engineering students working on projects sponsored by non-technical sponsors. In addition many teams include students from disciplines other than engineering. Mentoring a team of students working with non-technical project sponsors and team mates is much different than mentoring a team of engineering students working on a project with a practicing engineer serving as a sponsor. Non-technical students and sponsors do not understand the engineering design process, engineering analysis and the culture in engineering. Engineering students and faculty may know about the technology available but they may have little understanding of a problem involving other disciplines. In addition these problems may be complex in nature and involve stake holders with conflicting priorities. Finally, the project sponsors and experts with domain specific knowledge may not have the time, ability or motivation to teach engineering students and faculty the basic concepts about their discipline or problem. Communication between project stakeholders is furthered hampered by the different frames of reference, experiences, lack of common disciplinary knowledge and the tacit or unspoken knowledge of all stake holders.

Similarly, engineering students and faculty struggle to understand the cultural norms of the sponsor’s profession and the priorities of the stakeholders. Some sponsors bring potential solutions to the table and can be disappointed when the design team recommends implementing other technologies. These challenges confront faculty sponsors as they try to mentor teams and satisfy all stakeholders. Ideally, the students should have a positive learning experience, the sponsor should value the final output of the project and faculty should not have to spend too much time supervising the project. Effective communication between the stakeholders from different disciplines combined with managing expectations is the best way to improve the chances of success. This paper will step through the design process and describe the best practices for facilitating communication between the sponsor, engineering students and faculty related to each step of the design process. Completed Projects are used as examples to illustrate the difficulties.

Farris, J. P., & Reffeor, W. S., & Kenyon, L. K. (2017, June), Best Practices for Working with Non-Technical Project Sponsors Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27656

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